Direct visualization of clay microfabric signatures driving organic matter preservation in fine-grained sediment

Kenneth J. Curry, University of Southern Mississippi
Richard H. Bennett
Lawrence M. Mayer
Ann Curry

Abstract

We employed direct visualization of organic matter (OM) sequestered by microfabric signatures in organo-clay systems to study mechanisms of OM protection. We studied polysaccharides, an abundant class of OM in marine sediments, associated with the nano- and microfabric of clay sediment using a novel application of transmission electron microscopy, histochemical staining (periodic acid-thiosemicarbazide-silver proteinate), and enzymatic digestion techniques. We used two experimental organo-clay sediment environments. First, laboratory-consolidated sediment with 10% chitin (w/w) added was probed for chitin before and after digestion with chitinase. Second, fecal pellets from the polychaete Heteromastus filiformis were used as a natural environment rich in clay and polysaccharides. Sections of this material were probed with silver proteinate for polysaccharides before and after digestion with a mixture of enzymes (amylase, cellulase, chitinase, dextranase, and pectinase). In both environments, chitin or other polysaccharides were found within pores, bridging clay domains, and attached to clay surfaces in undigested samples. Digested samples showed chitin or polysaccharides more closely associated with clay surfaces and in small pores. Our results imply protective roles for both sorption to clay surfaces and encapsulation within clay microfabric signatures. (c) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.